Local Election

Here’s what you need to know about candidates who want to be Whatcom’s new executive

What qualities are important for the next Whatcom County executive?

Jack Louws, Whatcom County executive, explains what qualities are important when thinking about who should be the next county executive. He's retiring after two four-year terms as county executive. Four candidates are seeking election to the post.
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Jack Louws, Whatcom County executive, explains what qualities are important when thinking about who should be the next county executive. He's retiring after two four-year terms as county executive. Four candidates are seeking election to the post.

A County Council member and three other candidates are running for Whatcom County executive in the primary election.

Three of the four candidates have in-kind donations from Washington State Democrats in what is Whatcom County’s most expensive non-partisan race.

County Executive Jack Louws is not seeking a third term.

Those who responded to a recent Bellingham Herald survey said water rights, jobs, housing and homelessness and climate change are among the most pressing local issues. All will be faced by the new executive, plus the continuing issue of an aging, overcrowded jail.

The Whatcom County executive serves a four-year term at an annual salary of $172,402.

It’s a non-partisan, full-time administrative post, responsible for the county’s day-to-day operations.

The top two candidates in the Aug. 6 primary will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

Primary ballots will be mailed July 17. Ballots don’t need a stamp but must be postmarked by Election Day. Ballot drop boxes open July 17 and close at 8 p.m. on Election Day, Aug. 6.

These are the candidates for Whatcom County executive:

Jim Boyle

Boyle, 58, is vice president of philanthropy for the Organization for Tropical Studies, which focuses on research in rainforest ecosystems around the world.

Bio: He and his wife have lived in Whatcom County for 19 years and are raising their two teenage boys. He has a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University’s School of Forestry. He has spent more than two decades working with organizations going through transition or challenges, helping guide them toward a stronger future. He has served as the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Whatcom County, worked on salmon recovery with the U.S. Department of the Interior, and worked with the Whatcom County Flood Commission. He’s coached youth soccer and basketball and worked with youths at robotics competitions.

Neighborhood: Alabama Hill neighborhood of Bellingham.

Funds raised: $23,157 through July 3.

Funds spent: $2,492 through July 3.

Largest contributors: He and his wife each contributed $2,000 to his campaign. David McKinley, Mary McKinley and Meredith McKinley, all of Wheeling, West Virginia, each donated $2,000. The Washington State Democrats made an in-kind donation of $1,832. , About $18,000 is through individual donors.

Boyle says: “Whatcom County is a wonderful place to live with beautiful surroundings and thriving communities. However, it’s getting harder to make ends meet, find affordable housing, drug and mental health issues are increasing, and we’re seeing the impacts of climate change. I’m running because I have the executive experience to provide the leadership needed to make a difference on the issues that matter most to Whatcom County: a sustainable economy with living-wage jobs that support current and future generations; a healthy environment for fish, farms and families; and a criminal justice system that is effective and ensures equity.”

Endorsements: Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 292.

Website: JimBoyleforWhatcom.com and Jim Boyle for Whatcom on Facebook.

Karen Burke

Burke, 47, is executive director of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, with a multi-million-dollar budget and a staff of 32 employees and more than 100 volunteers.

Bio: She has lived in Whatcom County for 25 years. She and her wife are foster parents and Burke has a grown son. She was raised in southern Colorado in an extended family with her parents, grandparents and three brothers. They were supported by a small business that is still operated by one of her brothers.

Burke has a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University — working her way through college as a single mother — and attended the leadership institute at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs.

During her 12 years at DVSAS, the agency has tripled in size, adding housing programs, school-based prevention programs and expanded services in rural Whatcom County. Previously she was the director of the Lummi Tribal Court, where she developed and managed the probation department, court clerk’s office, child support services, drug court, accounting and administration. She represented the court at federal, state, and local levels, negotiating operational and data sharing agreements and jurisdiction service agreements. She also supervised the implementation of technology applications, security, facilities, and records coordination.

She is a member of the Commission Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, the Whatcom County Housing Advisory Committee, the Coalition to End Homelessness and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Task Force. She has been on the steering committee of the Child Advocacy Center, the Law and Justice Commission, Federal/State/Tribal Relations Workgroup, the National Tribal Child Support Coalition, among others.

Neighborhood: Along Mount Baker Highway.

Funds raised: $33,596 through July 3.

Funds spent: $22,971 through July 3.

Largest contributors: Jim Clay and Andy Clay of Bow each donated $2,000. The Washington State Democrats gave an in-kind donation of $1,834 and Bellingham Crown Plaza LLC gave and in-kind donation of $1,800. About $25,000 in donations come from individual donors. Businesses donated $1,800.

Burke says: “I am called to this position because I have a clear vision to make the executive branch of the Whatcom County government more effective, transparent, inclusive and accountable. There are people living on the streets who need help and housing, our salmon populations are declining, orcas are facing extinction, and people cannot find or afford daycare or housing. We have approved plans that were developed by community experts and stakeholders to solve these problems, yet they need to be implemented. It is time for new and bold leadership and I am not afraid to make decisions to get things done.”

Endorsements: Washington Conservation Voters, National Organization for Women, National Women’s Political Caucus, Whatcom County Prosecutor Eric Richey, Deputy Chief Flo Simon of the Bellingham Police Department, and Laura Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Human Society.

Website: ElectKarenBurke.com and Karen Burke for Whatcom County Executive on Facebook.

Tony Larson

Larson, 55, is publisher of Business Pulse magazine and president of the Whatcom Business Alliance, a local membership organization focused on helping businesses succeed.

Bio: He was born in Whatcom County and is married with two young adult children. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance from Western Washington University. He has been involved personally and through his businesses with many local non-profit organizations — including the Lighthouse Mission, Bellingham Food Bank, Whatcom Boys and Girls Club and his church. He has held numerous leadership positions on boards including president of the WWU Alumni Association, executive board of the United Way of Whatcom County and executive board of Junior Achievement, where he earned their leadership award. Larson served one year on the Whatcom County Council after a special election in 2011 and on the school board for Evergreen Christian Schools. He’s also the former owner of the Bellingham Bells.

Neighborhood: Bellingham.

Funds raised: $54,184 through July 3.

Funds spent: $2,125 through July 3.

Largest contributors: Twenty local residents and companies have contributed the $2,000 maximum, including Brooks manufacturing, Birch Equipment Co., Bellingham Cold Storage, Kathryn Haggen and Mary and John Ferlin. About $25,000 in donations are from individual donors and about $30,000 from businesses

Larson says: “I will bring a new and refreshing perspective to county government. I will fight for job creation; support only those regulations that work with, not against, our farmers, employers and families; and focus spending on programs with clear objectives. While maintaining the existing social safety nets for our most vulnerable citizens, I’ll also bring key community thought leaders together to discuss the best solutions on key issues like affordable housing, homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness.”

Endorsements: Whatcom County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild, Whatcom County Fire District 7 firefighters, and the mayors from Lynden, Ferndale, Blaine, Sumas, Everson and Nooksack.

Website: VoteTonyLarson.com and Vote Tony Larson on Facebook.

Satpal Sidhu

Sidhu, 69, is a member of the Whatcom County Council and adviser for the Spice Hut, a family business run by his wife and son.

Bio: He and his wife are nearing their 40th wedding anniversary. His first term on the council is expiring at the end of this year and he isn’t seeking re-election. Sidhu was born in India and immigrated to the U.S. from Canada more than 30 years ago. He earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and electrical engineering and an MBA from Punjab University in India. He has been an engineer, project manager, business executive and educator for several companies and institutions, and served as dean of Engineering and Trades at Bellingham Technical College from 2001 to 2008.

He was recognized by two Washington state governors for his achievements in workforce development at BTC. He led the initiative to build the downtown Arch of Healing and Reconciliation honoring all immigrants in Whatcom County, and he received the 2018 Peace Builder Award for that effort. He volunteers for several groups throughout the area, including the NW Agricultural Business Center, Bellingham Police Chief Diversity Committee, St. Joseph’s Hospital Ethics Committee and Whatcom Counseling and Psychiatric Clinic. He is also a founding member of the Meridian Public Schools Foundation and serves on the board of the Whatcom Community College Foundation.

On the County Council, he is chair of the Finance and Administrative Services Committee and a member of the Natural Resources Committee. He is appointed to several community boards and committees, including the Council of Governments, Northwest Clean Air Agency, Reserve Officers Board of Trustees, and Whatcom Transportation Authority board.

Neighborhood: Near Lynden.

Funds raised: $46,709 through July 3.

Funds spent: $14,416 through July 3.

Largest contributors: About $7,500 from businesses and $35,000 from individuals, with $2,000 from Lummi Indian Business Council and $1,834 in-kind from Washington State Democrats.

Sidhu says: “I have 40 years of leadership experience — working with people, building companies, managing projects and multimillion-dollar budgets, educating the next generation and making government work for people. Whatcom County has a lot of hard work to do to build a 21st-century economy that is both clean and equitable. My skill set and problem-solving experience are what the county needs right now, and that’s why I’m running.”

Endorsements: Washington Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, 42nd Legislative District Democrats, Riveters Collective, Whatcom County Council members Todd Donovan and Barry Buchanan, and former Bellingham mayors Tim Douglas and Ken Hertz.

Website: VoteSatpalSidhu.com and Vote Satpal Sidhu on Facebook.

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Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.